Crossing the Atlantic
Chronicle 15. SAILING TO RIO DE JANEIRO!
● Periplus: (Luso-Hellenic Wanderings) ● An Atlantic Odyssey
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ ΠΛΩΡΗ ΓΙΑ RIO DE JANEIRO!
/PORTUGUÊS/ NAVEGANDO PARA O RIO DE JANEIRO!
Music and Poetry in the
Federal University of
Rio de Janeiro, May 2013
Tão Longe Tão Perto Organized in collaboration with the ensemble Música Surda: Andréia Pedroso, Antônio Jardim, Artur Gouvêa and Eduardo Gatto.
WHEN AMÉLIA MUGE AND I BEGAN researching and exchanging recorded material from our traditions, the Lusitanic–Portuguese and the Hellenic–Greek, several people raised ironically their brows:
“Oh, they are loucos”, they thought – some even said. “Portugal and Greece are so far apart. Impossible to find common ground”…(1)
- (1) Imagine what people with “raised brows”, just like them, will say now that we are talking about a triangle (not that of… Bermuda): Portugal, Brazil and Greece. Well, Portugal and Brazil, OK, the relation is too obvious: former metropolis and colony; but what about Greece?(!)
● This text was presented during the festival Tão longe, tão perto, in Rio de Janeiro.
I confess that our collaborative results astonished even us! Or even me, I should add, that I have been researching this field for years, arriving to the conclusion that civilization, culture, is the result of give and take, of exchange. I have also shown during my radio program (Mediterranean periplus, 9.58 fm, ERT3) that lands located so far apart, like, say, India and Iberia, have been interconnected for thousands of years, since ancient times…(2)
- (2) “Ancient” for the Hellenes means BCE (before the Common Era), or BC (before Christ), if you like.
All these ideas were further reinforced when Amélia and I started working on Periplus.(3) For sure, there are some “dark spots” still now; questions that remain unanswered. A big question for me e.g. is: how can Amélia, a Portuguese born in Mozambique, compose in an ancient style? You see, all three themes of ancient Grecian music and poetry we have in Periplus (Seikilos’ Epitaph, the First Delphic Hymn to Apollo, probably by Athenaeus, and Mesomedes’ Hymn to Nemesis) were included after certain compositions of hers reminded me of these ancient Hellenic songs. It’s very strange, indeed.
- (3) It’s not so obvious but there is something like a “periplus” in different human endeavours, too. Music was born together with speech. In an advanced stage, in ancient Hellas, music was either instrumental or song. Poetry was inconceivable without music in classical Greece. The two arts got… divorce later, in the 4th century BCE. However, either before or after, a “periplus” was (and still is) needed to combine sounds with words, and express the meaning of the words through sounds. Something similar happens in a translation: then the “periplus” concerns two tongues. It is the voyage of a text, of its meaning and style, content and form, while it is adapted in order to start breathing in another language environment.
However, apart from these “dark spots”, which will always challenge us to come up with some satisfactory answers, we were soon able to assemble the rest of the puzzle rather easily. And when our Periplus was released, I could say:
“You know, the links are there, waiting for us to bring them to light. One only needs to search, of course, methodically, with a proper compass – a bússula, as we say in Greek, or bússola, as you say in Portuguese”.(4)
- (4) We have the same word coming from Greek (pyxos > pyxis-pyxida > buxis-buxida > box, boîte, and bussola), with the plant pyxos (> boxwood) as a starting point; this hard, compact, durable wood has been used since ancient times to construct vessels, such as pyxides, and also musical (string and wind) instruments. Note that its seeds are kept in a capsule also called pyxis. Indeed, who among the non-specialists would ever imagine that the English box is of a Greek origin?
The Mediterranean and the Oecumene beyond
THE GREEK PENINSULA AND ARCHIPELAGO was not a beginning in world history. The Hellenes received much wisdom from the Orient (Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Egypt) and turned it into science;(5) it was a great feat! What they left behind was a marvelous literature – uma literatura maravilhosa, indeed! Thus the Hellenic civilization became the foundation of the Occidental cultures.
- (5) There can be no great civilization without equivalent technology. A marvel in this domain is the Anticythera mechanism, the earliest analogue computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. Dated to c. 100 BCE, it was recovered in 1901 from a wreck between the Peloponnese and Crete, but its significance and complexity were not understood until a century later. Devices of a comparable level would reappear in the 14th century CE in Europe, with the construction of astronomical clocks. Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led a 2006 study of the mechanism, said:
“This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, and the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. In terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa.”
The extant peripli took place on the Mediterranean, the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans. Herodotus wrote about a periplus of Africa by Phoenicians on behalf of an Egyptian pharaoh. Some Greek from Alexandria, Egypt, described the Indian Ocean coasts of eastern Africa and India. Pytheas, from the Hellenic colony of Massalia (modern Marseille, France), voyaged north to the British Isles and also Scandinavia, and concluded a periplus of Europe sailing via European rivers from the Baltic to the Black Sea and back to the Mediterranean. There are people who believe that the Minoan Cretans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians and Punics, and other ancient peoples, such as the Chinese, sailed to the Americas long before the Vikings, Columbus – or, of course, Magellan, who attempted a periplus of the Earth but was not fortunate enough to conclude it.
Hence these voyages started long before recorded history, in the Bronze Age. There are historical clues that the Minoans, in the time of their Thalassocracy, travelled as far as Cornwall, Britain, in search of tin – or else, they obtained this important metal at harbours in southern Gaul. Tin is a necessary component of bronze (±90% copper plus ±10% tin). There were vast quantities of copper in the Mediterranean. Cyprus e.g. was full of copper and the name Cyprus comes from copper (and vice versa). But tin? There were very few places with tin in the Mediterranean and in limited quantities.
The Minoans, and later the Greeks and Phoenicians, sailed initially to Iberia that was rich in these minerals. The Andalusians probably led the Cretans to Galicia, Brittany and Cornwall: they knew the way… These places, especially Cornwall, had massive tin deposits. There, close to Galicia, or even Cornwall, were the so-called Cassiterides Nēsoe, the Tin Isles (tin is cassíteros in Greek). Herodotus and other historians wrote also about the links of the Hellenes and Phoenicians with Tartessos, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, and several people now correlate the legendary Andalusian city with the elusive Atlantis.
Critical questions as the starting point of the research
MY RESEARCH, in the first part we have already voyaged, aimed at that complacent Greek highbrow “hot air”, summed up in the phrase “our own Orient” (see Chronicle 6, footnote 1). So, I raised that vast “Indo-Iberian arc” to demarcate the Mediterranean historical and cultural space. The starting point in the second part was these simple questions that had to be answered:
● Where did the Bronze Age Mediterranean find tin to produce bronze?
● Who were the established maritime traders of the time to bring this most crucial metal to the Mediterranean, as tin was rare around the basin?
I attempt to give some answers in the 2nd part, Cassiterides Archipelago: sailing to Tartessos, following the 1st part, Mediterranean Periplus: in Search of Orpheus. (Hellenic) music is my focus in the 1st part; (Mediterranean) history in the 2nd.
Α. Mediterranean Periplus, in Search of Orpheus
Β. Cassiterides Archipelago, Sailing to Tartessos
A general conclusion is that certain needs motivated humans to live together, to communicate, to exchange. That’s how society was born, the cities were created, the classes and division of labour emerged, and writing was invented. People’s coordinated interaction concerned material needs but transformed at the same time all those who worked together, exchanging ideas or ideals; it was a process that led to the birth of culture, of civilization.
Homer’s Odyssey periplus
HOMER’S ODYSSEY IS A POETIC PERIPLUS. According to the Lusitanians, Odysseus’ wanderings were Luso-Hellenic, as well: he founded Lisbon and had a child with the princess of Iberia, Calypso. Homer described Odysseus’ descent into the Hades, the underworld, which was outside the Pillars of Heracles, that is, the Strait of Gibraltar. The Hellenes located in the same area the Garden of the Hesperides or the Makarōn Nēsoe, i.e. the Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blessed, or Elysium, what today is thought to be Macaronesia (the Azores and Madeira, the Canaries and Cape Verde).
Strabo and Solinus said that Odysseus, after the fall of Troy, navigated westward to Lusitania, founded Lisbon, and then desired to try his fortune on the Atlantic – where he disappeared, with no trace left behind. This is a version of Odysseus’ story mentioned also by Pere Antoni Beuter, a Valencian historian, who referred to Dante Alighieri, saying he shared this view. Indeed, in his Inferno, the Italian poet described Odysseus’ descent into the underworld with no return. The king of Ithaca, he wrote, went out of the Pillars of Hercules, sailed south, crossed the Equator, and then continued voyaging for months, until he reached a bay with a big mountain. Then, a tornado sank his boat; everybody drowned there.
I really don’t know why, but I feel this bay with the big mountain is… the River of January: Rio de Janeiro! I would really love to confirm that…
Appendix: An Atlantic Odyssey
● A modern Greek Homerist, Iohannis Kakridís, argues that the Odyssey is a work of poetry and not a travel log (i.e. a navigator’s periplus). According to W. B. Stanford, Cape Maleas and the nearby island of Cythera, where Odysseus met storms (see the Odyssey, book 9), are “the last clearly identifiable places in his wanderings. After this he leaves the sphere of Geography and enters Wonderland” – a wander in wonders!
Nevertheless, due to the great impact of the Homeric epics, the attempt to work out “a Geography of the Odyssey” started as early as Hesiod, a Homer’s contemporary most probably, and by the Hellenistic period, the literature on the subject had really thrived. There were even passionate debates among the scholars whether Odysseus’ wanderings were confined within the Mediterranean, or if they indeed expanded into the Atlantic – indicating that for them the ocean was not a “terra” (mare) incogita.
Despite that, other scholars, turned against this euhemerism –(6) or even against the great rhapsode. The mythographer-grammarian Apollodorus of Athens (2nd century BCE) wrote that Homer imagined the wanderings as having taken place in a kind of fairyland in the Atlantic. Strabo (1st centuries BCE-CE) thought that at least Ogygia and Scheria, the islands of Calypso and Nausicaa respectively, were “imagined in fantasy” as being in the Atlantic – so, they both mentioned the Atlantic! In addition, he insisted that any hypothesis at all, no matter how outrageous, is more plausible than saying “I do not know”… Yet, Eratosthenes (3rd – 2nd centuries BCE) remarked rather sarcastically: “You will find the scene of the wanderings of Odysseus when you find the cobbler who sewed up the bag of the winds.”
- (6) Euhemerism: from the mythographer of Sacred History, Euhemerus: a view that the gods have been deified humans and that the myths have a historical basis.
Plutarch (1st – 2nd centuries CE) was sure Ogygia was in the Atlantic, and specifically west of Britain. Additionally, he repeated what Plato had described as a continent on the other side of the Atlantic, claiming that from this continent Ogygia was about 900 kilometres distant. The German astronomer Kepler (1571 – 1630) estimated that this “great continent” was America and attempted to locate Calypso’s island.
● In her research entitled The Wine Dark Sea (1964), the American Henriette Mertz argued that Circe’s island was Madeira, Calypso’s island one of the Azores, while the intervening voyages recorded a discovery of North America: Scylla and Charybdis were in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada, while Scheria, the Phaeacians’ land, was in the Caribbean, in the Gulf of Mexico, possibly in Florida. Such travels were done with the help of sea currents she studied. It was them, mainly the (Mexican) Gulf Stream, which took Odysseus to the Sirens (Haiti or Cuba, and to the Island of the Sun, of Helios (Nova Scotia or Newfoundland).
Enrico Mattievich, an Italian-Peruvian retired Professor of Physics from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (where our festival took place), “brought” Odysseus to South America, proposing that his journey to the Underworld actually took place there. The river Acheron is the Amazon, he argued in his Journey to the Mythological Inferno (1992). After a long voyage upstream, Odysseus met the spirits of the dead at the confluence of the rivers Marañon and Ucayali – i.e. at the starting point of the Amazon.
Another study connected to that of Mertz’s is Siegfried Petrides’ Odyssey – a Naval Epic of the Greeks in America (1994). Grecian literature is full of references about the geographical and astronomical knowledge of the Hellenes, which allowed them to use the constellations for directions. Petrides’ long experience as a sailor allowed him to confirm, or even clarify, Mertz’s conclusions, providing extra details on the wind directions, sea routes, islands, etc. A clarification is that ancient Greek sailors did not rely on mere chance to reach America but had fast and versatile vessels that could easily cross the Atlantic. They also knew perfectly well how to combine and take advantage of both the sails and the rows, thus covering very long distances.
Demetris Michalópoulos, of the Institute of Hellenic Maritime History, described a Peripeteia [Adventure] in the Atlantic: Ulysses’ voyages between Europe and America – referring also to Petrides. His anything but controversial starting point is the coast of Libya, the land of the Lotophagi. His next stop, the land of the Cyclopes, seems to be nearby: Sicily or somewhere in Magna Graecia, according to the prevailing opinion in late antiquity. All the same, there is no mention to Italy in the Homeric text. The only information given by Homer is that, in the past, the Cyclopes were neighbours of the Phaeacians in the “immense Hyperia”. Yet, the latter were compelled to migrate to Scheria, because the Cyclopes were anything but friendly… But where was Hyperia located? If we now accept what we have just rejected, i.e. the prevailing opinion in late antiquity, the Cyclopes lived in the Mediterranean near the Laestrygonians. In the Homeric text, there are some indications about the Laestrygonians’ land: “the outgoings of the nights and of the days are close together”… Michalópoulos supposes that the Laestrygonians lived in a region where, in summer, the days are very long and the nights very short, that is, in Scandinavia. He also refers to Tacitus, who wrote that Odysseus reached at least Germany. Hence Hyperia was somewhere there. Yet, there is a “little problem”: between the Cyclopes and the Laestrygonians, Odysseus voyaged to Aeolia that, although “floating”, is identified most possibly with Mallorca. But a return trip between Scandinavia and the Balearics is… a little too much!
Then we set sail to America. Circe’s Aeaea, the Underworld, the Hesperides and the Gorgons were all in the “remote West”, according to Hesiod. Ogygia, wrote Plutarch, was five days away from Britain. Arriving there, one must navigate through “a heavy sea, muddy and agitated by currents”. Such a place can be the Sargasso Sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, where Bermuda may be the location of the isle of Calypso. The nymph instructed Odysseus to sail with the Ursa Major constellation on his left. After eighteen days, he reached Scheria, possibly in Iberia. Ithaca’s king and other Trojan War heroes had made their presence felt in the peninsula. According to Strabo, even a town therein was named after Odysseus. There is a tradition, as well, adopted by Camões, that the etymon of Lisbon is Ulysses, i.e. the Latin form of the name of our hero. Hence the “Homeric” river of the Phaeacians is the Tagus, whose bed was so rich in precious metals that it was described as “equivalent to the Pactolus”, the well-known gold river of Asia Minor (Silius Italicus).
Odysseus may not have been the first Greek (or European) to step on American soil: according to Mertz, some time before the Trojan War and the Odyssey, circa 1300 (or 1225) BCE,(7) the Argonauts travelled across the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to the Gulf Stream, crossed the Sargasso Sea (Apollonius of Rhodes’ “floating islands”) and then touched at Puerto Rico. They sailed southwards by South America, past the mouth of the Amazon and Rio de Janeiro until the Río de la Plata of Argentina, and, following it upstream, reached the altiplano of Bolivia arriving at Colchis, or Tiwanaku, where the Golden Fleece was kept. Centuries later Tiwanaku became the cultural, religious, cosmological and commercial centre of a pre-Columbian Empire extending around Lake Titicaca in present-day western Bolivia, southern Peru and northern Chile from 300 to 1150 CE. But this area must have been inhabited as early as 1500 BCE.(8)
- (7) Michalópoulos (The Argonauts in the Black Sea) moves the expedition to a distant past in the first half of the 19th century BCE. In very ancient times, he says, “voyages were longer and more venturesome than those in late antiquity”, while “the Euxine had been a center of international trade”. The Argonauts were Minyans, the most prominent tribe of the Pelasgians. The latter are presented as ancestors of the Hellenes, colonizers of the Black Sea, and also of Italy, inventors of the alphabet – a civilizing people.
- (8) Both the expedition of the Argonauts and the Trojan War that followed aimed at the control of the Black Sea by the Hellenes. The legend of the Golden Fleece was based on a practice of the local tribes: they would place a lamb’s fleece at the bottom of a stream to entrap gold dust that was washed down from upstream. In some regions this practice is still now in use. The capital of Colchis, Aea (Kutaisi), is said to have been one of many cities that were founded in Eurasia by Egyptians. This account is combined with one by Herodotus, citing Egyptian priests. Their story was about the legendary pharaoh Sesostris, who once led an army north through the Levant and Asia Minor, all the way to Colchis. He settled colonists there, at the river Phasis (modern Rioni), and then he turned westward across southern Russia, and south through Romania and Bulgaria, until he reached eastern Hellas, from where he returned home. Herodotus cautioned that much of this account came second hand via Egyptian priests, but also noted that the Colchians were commonly known to be Egyptian colonists. According to Strabo and Diodorus Siculus, Sesostris conquered the whole world, from Ethiopia in the South, to Scythia in the North – or, who knows, even South America in the West!
● Some writers interpret the Homeric epics as “British ballads” or “Viking sagas”, and in this way pass off their North-to-South cultural-transmission theory. Such pseudo-theories are centuries older than German nationalism, and definitely inspire all the Northerners – who may figure out they are descendants of the “Hyper-Northerners”, the Hyperboreans!(9) The idea that the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis can be found in the Baltic was the… “grandfather” of all these books. In the “heroic” 17th century of Sweden, the foremost champion was the all-round Renaissance scholar (astronomer, physician, “archaeo-historian”, and even more) Olaus or Olof Rudbeck, who caused consternation with his mammoth, 2,500-page work, Atland eller Manheim, translated into Latin for scholarly use as Atlantica. He claimed there, among other things, that the oldest district of his home town, Uppsala, was the centre of “lost Atlantis”; thus – by the extravagant logic of cultural diffusion – Sweden was the cradle of western civilization going back to Adam and Eve! Despite ridicule from his local university colleagues (who also accused him of forgery), he was turned into a national icon – and not only: he was admired at the court of Louis “l’état c’est moi!”, proposed as a member of the Royal Society in London, celebrated in cafés, salons, and academies across the cosmopolitan “Respublica literaria”, and read avidly by Montesquieu and Leibniz, while Isaac Newton wrote to request… a personal copy of Atlantica! After his death, Swedish monarchs would be crowned over his grave! He had fanatic followers and became the subject of a satiric illustration, captioned: “The archaeologist Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) reveals his ‘Predecessors’ – Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle, Apollodorus, Tacitus, Odysseus, Ptolemy, Plutarch and Orpheus – the ‘Truth’ about Atlantis”…
- (9) Along with Thule, the Hyperborean land was among several terrae incognitae to the ancients. The Hyperboreans were a race of giants, three metres high, enjoying lives of sheer happiness and living to the age of one thousand! The sun was supposed to rise and set there only once a year – hence living a thousand days would be the same as living a thousand years! This also, to modern ears, suggests a possible location within the Arctic Circle. They were the most blessed of peoples, living in a perfect land, located “beyond Boreas”, the North Wind. The coldness of the northern countries was due to the cold breath of this wind. Thus the land “beyond Boreas” was a warm and sunny land! Besides, the only one among the Olympians, who was venerated there, was Apollo: the Hellenes thought he spent his winter there. The giants reciprocated by sending their delegation and offerings to his sacred Aegean island, Delos! Pindar sang of “the marvellous road to the assembly of the Hyperboreans: Never the Muse is absent | from their ways: lyres clash and flutes cry | everywhere maiden choruses whirling. | Neither disease nor bitter old age is mixed | in their sacred blood; far from labour and battle they live.”
● “Northerners and Hyper-Northerners”: I started with wordplay, but we ended up filled up with swastikas! Northerners, mainly Scandinavians, wishing to counter the Graeco-Roman Mediterranean culture, identified themselves with the Hyperboreans. This trend was very strong in the 17th century in Sweden, when it was a great power, where the champions of the ideology of Gothicism declared Scandinavia to be both the Hyperborean land and lost Atlantis! After all, the Arctic Circle is their land… Generally, European culture self-identified as Hyperborean. Inevitably, adaptations followed by the ethnologist Karl Penka (Origins of the Aryans, 1883), John Bennett (The Hyperborean Origin of the Indo-European Culture, 1963), and several others. According to some esotericists, the Hyperboreans were part of the Golden Race (where, of course, all these “thinkers” belong, for sure), and their land was the Golden Age polar centre of civilization and spirituality. Mankind, they claim, does not rise from the ape, but devolves progressively into an ape-like condition, as it strays physically and spiritually from its mystical otherworldly homeland in the Far North, succumbing to the South Pole’s daemonic energies… Some outright charlatans, like Robert Charroux, the alter ego of Erich von Däniken, relate the Hyperboreans to an ancient astronaut race of “very large, very white people”, who arrived here and selected “the least warm area on the earth because it corresponded more closely to their own climate on the planet from which they originated”…
● Except perhaps the last ones, who profit out of their… charlatanism, all the rest are racists and fascists. The Nazis e.g. considered Hyperborea as the cradle of the “Aryan race”, while their party was hatched within the “Thule Society”. Let’s remind them (pulling their legs) that Hyperborea, as a terra incognita, was located by ancient writers in the far North, of course, but all across Eurasia, from NW Europe to NE Asia. So, some “Chinks” claimed that the Hyperboreans were Chinese – a view that would be strongly disputed especially in Japan, but also in Mongolia and Siberia!
None of Rudbeck’s descendants ever achieved such a Triumph. Most unlucky was a Belgian lawyer, named Théophile Cailleux (Pays atlantiques décrits par Homère: Ibérie, Gaule, Bretagne, Archipels, Amériques; Théorie nouvelle. Atlantic lands described by Homer: Iberia, Gaul, Britain, Archipelagos, the Americas; New Theory. 1878). Troy, he claimed, was situated in East Anglia, on the heights outside Cambridge, known as the Gog Magog Hills (rather far from the sea); while Ithaca, he believed, should be sought in southern Andalusia, between Jerez and Cádiz, in the Delta of the Guadalete (where a Trojan War hero, Menestheus, allegedly settled: see Chronicle 22). Yet, some time after Cailleux’s book was published, Heinrich Schliemann triumphantly proved that Troy and Mycenae existed as powerful cities, at the right time and in the right place to have fought a Trojan War such as the epics describe. As a result, there was no thirst for geohistorical speculation then in the market…
More than a century later, the Dutch Iman Wilkens presented the same idea again. His book, Where Troy Once Stood (1990), takes us to the same hills that Cailleux pinpointed, but with a scenario somewhat modified: the Trojan War was fought c. 1200 BCE between groups of Celts. Those living in Cambridgeshire were attacked by fellow Celts from the Continent to win access to the profitable tin mines in Cornwall. Wilkens further suggests that the Sea Peoples (see Chronicles 18, 19, 20) were Celts who settled in Greece and the Aegean as Achaeans and Pelasgians, bringing with them the oral poems that were translated and written down in Hellenic around 750 BCE, forming the basis of the Homeric epics. He locates Scylla and Charybdis at present day St. Michael’s Mount, at the tip of the Cornish peninsula, moves a bit Ithaca from the Guadalete to Cádiz, while the topography of the Laestrygonian capital, Telepylos (“Far-off port”), looks to him similar to that of Havana, Cuba. But he’s got an Achilles’ heel; he (too) is a nationalist:
“It appears that Homer’s Greek contains a large number of loan words from western European languages, more often from Dutch rather than English, French or German”, he thoughtlessly wrote, speaking of tongues that have not existed until at least 1000 years after Homer!(10)
- (10) If one takes Cailleux and Wilkens for granted, the Trojans left Britain after the war to settle in Italy. Anyway, three generations later they returned to found the “British nation”. Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain), written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth, begins with the Trojan Aeneas who, according to Roman legend, settled in Italy after the war. But his great-grandson Brutus was banished, started wandering and was finally directed by the goddess Diana (Artemis) to settle in the western ocean, on the island of Albion, which he named Britain after himself. He then defeated the giants who were the only inhabitants there, and on the banks of the Thames he established his capital, Troia Nova, renamed later as London.
A variation of this North-to-South cultural transmission is that early Grecian sailors might have come for long-distance trade in tin etc. and also took this wonderful epic tale back with them, transforming it into an “ethnic” epic when it was written down in verse. The northern peoples preferred not to write out their compositions, relying on prodigious feats of memory (as Caesar said of the Celtic bards). However, over time the original northern version could have been lost in wars and migrations. Another North-to-South cultural-transmission theory is that the northern tribes were the Sea Peoples who swept south to attack also Hellas, around 1200 BCE. The Greeks that survived assimilated the northerners’ campfire tales and made them their own when they flourished again, also thanks to these tales, after their Dark Ages.
This “theory” was foreshadowed in several books by Jurgen Spanuth (1907-1998), a German pastor, classical scholar, and amateur archaeologist. He maintained that all these events survive in distorted version not just in Homer but also in Plato’s Atlantis parable. Spanuth compared Homer’s and Plato’s descriptions on a point-for-point basis, and suggested both derived from a common origin. This was the rise and fall of a mighty Bronze Age seafaring nation living in the Jutland area, which fell when an “Atlantean” North Sea flood drove them southward into the Mediterranean; they were the Sea Peoples that the Egyptians defeated in the Nile Delta. Their tale of how their vast empire collapsed in a flood was recorded by the Egyptians, and then Plato picked it up through Solon, who was briefed by priests when he visited Egypt (Das Entratselte Atlantis; Atlantis – The Mystery Unraveled; 1953, all through Die Atlanter; Atlantis of the North; 1976). German nationalism was all too clear in these inflated claims – in effect assuming credit for another people’s cultural foundations – and the reception of the books was rather cold in the reviews. Rebuffed by the mainstream, the pastor turned to some right-wing German magazines, which marginalized him further. If he succeeded in something indirectly is that he rekindled interest for new excavations in sunken North Sea ports, e.g. Rungholt, where ceramics were recovered evidencing trade between Frisia and Minoan Crete dating back to 1600-1400 BCE!
The other variant of the North-to-South cultural-transmission “theory”, with a largely Scandinavian setting, has a certain peculiarity: the storyteller is an Italian, the nuclear engineer Felice Vinci – probably the only Mediterranean accepting that his ancestors received the “lights of civilization” from the North. The reception was dismissive, as usual, and the Finns were quick to label it “an interesting joke”! The book is entitled Omero nel Baltico (Homer in the Baltic, 1998), or The Baltic Origins of Homer’s Epic Tales: The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Migration of Myth. The Achaeans were a Baltic people at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE, coming to Greece around the 16th century (after the Trojan War that took place in the 18th century), bringing their traditional oral sagas to the Aegean. Odysseus himself, claims Vinci, was Dutch(!); the islands of his kingdom, Ithaca, Dulichium, Cephallenia, and Zacynthus, correspond to islands in the Danish archipelago of South Funen, and Troy to Toija in SW Finland; the Hellespont could not be identified with the Dardanelles, but the Gulf of Finland; Mycenae stood in the same place as modern Copenhagen; and Odysseus’ voyage would have taken place along the coasts of Norway: Ogygia could be identified with one of the Faeroe Islands (among Britain, Scandinavia and Iceland); the Phaeacian land, Scheria, with Bergen’s environs; Circe’s island, and the places she describes (the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis) may be placed in the Lofoten archipelago of northern Norway; and Aeolus’ island in the Shetland archipelago, NE of Scotland. The same region is the setting of other Hellenic mythological tales such as the Argonauts, adds Vinci. Referring to Plato’s dialogue Critias, he claims that Athens rose formerly on a flat fertile zone in the Baltic, perhaps near Karlskrona in southern Sweden.
Finally, the French Gilbert Pillot, in Le Code Secret de l’Odyssée (The Secret Code of the Odyssey, 1969), “saw” Odysseus crossing the Pillars of Heracles and voyaging on the Atlantic, initially to Morocco, the Canaries and Madeira, and then heading north to Ireland, Scotland and Iceland. He most probably thought – quite rightly – that “secret codes” are… sold out, and claimed he discovered “a secret message in the Odyssey”, with a “hidden” itinerary over the Atlantic, from the Canaries to Iceland through the British Isles. The verse epic, he argued, was a Hellenic syndicate’s way of concealing navigation data inside an “entertainment” – acting as an elaborate mnemonic. The Greek mariners could thus remember, yet protect, the key details (sailing directions, times, dangers) of their all-important northern trade route, leading to the sought-after sources of tin: the Cassiterides, or Tin Isles – a terra incognita, as Herodotus complained, impossible to locate, but a key to prosperity mainly in the Bronze Age.
Eternally mapping Homer’s Odyssey
MAPPING HOMER’S ODYSSEY, Armin Wolf concluded that Scheria-Phaeacia should have been in Calabria, Italy, as it is located between two seas: the Tyrrhenian and the Ionian Seas. The capital of the Phaeacians stood at the Tiriolo and Marcellinara region, in the Catanzaro province, he claimed. Additionally, he referred to the dozens (or hundreds?) of attempts to map the Odyssey; several of them we have already presented; but he added some more:
In 1898, an anonymous author with the pseudonym Eumaeus claimed that Odysseus had completed a periplus of Africa (centuries before the Phoenicians, mentioned by Herodotus), and had even discovered America. Pseudo-Eumaeus (the real one was Odysseus’ swineherd and friend) was the first to use the ocean currents to trace the route of the king of Ithaca. In 1925, even the distinguished archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld drew a map of Homer’s world in which, apart from the “established” stops of the Odyssey, he pinpointed the southernmost tip of Africa, and there he located Telepylus of the Laestrygonians and also – like “Eumaeus” – Aeaea, Circe’s island.
After World War II, several maps placed the Odyssey on the Atlantic and North Sea: British Isles, Iceland, Norway. The Swiss F. J. Wil, in 1950, added Faeroes in the list, while the German Otto Zeller, in 1959, expanded the map from Gibraltar and the Azores to Norway and Heligoland. Karl Bartholomäus, professor of archaeogeodesy, in 1977, tried to prove by astronomical calculations that the track from Calypso to Nausicaa leads from the Azores to Heligoland. The German judge Hans Steuerwald, in 1978, “sent” Odysseus to Cornwall and Scotland. The wine produced on Circe’s isle (identified with one of the Hebrides), he added, was in fact Scotch whisky…
A multitude of writers have created fantastic routes on the oceans of the earth. This mania of inventing “theories” probably reached its climax in 1983, with the Austrian ethnologist Christine Pellech, who argued that Odysseus had sailed right around the earth – before Magellan! She saw no difficulty in the great hero taking just seven days to row from the Mediterranean to Norway, and then in a single day the whole way from Norway to Canada! It goes without saying, of course, that he discovered the Strait of Magellan and Australia…
● More extreme views about the geography of the Homeric epics keep on surfacing, either centered on the Atlantic, or extending all over the globe. Some others turned their eyes to the sky arguing that the Homeric geography is to be found there, and that the Iliad and Odyssey can be decoded as a star map. What we will hear next, I suppose, is that the Trojan War was actually a… Star War!
LABYRINTH OF MAPS
● TROY. NW Asia Minor, Turkey: Hisarlık || E England: Cambridgeshire || SW Finland: Toija.
● LOTUS EATERS (LOTOPHAGI). Libya: a headland in the Gindanes area | Gulf of Sidra || Tunisia: Djerba (Meninx) island.
● CYCLOPES. Italy: SE Sicily, near Etna and Lentini (Leontini) | Marsala, W Sicily | Gulf of Naples || Spain: Balearics archipelago || Scandinavia.
● AEOLIA. Italy, N Sicily: Aeolian Islands (Lipari [Meligounis], or Stromboli [Strongule], or Ustica) || Spain: Balearics archipelago (Mallorca) || Scotland: Shetland archipelago.
● LAESTRYGONIANS. Italy: SE Sicily | N Sardinia || France: S Corsica || Scandinavia || Cuba: Havana || S African tip.
● CIRCE’S AEAEA. Italy: Monte Circeo, Lazio-Latium (< Latinus, Circe’s son) | Ischia, Gulf of Naples || Portugal: Madeira || Norway: Lofoten archipelago || S African tip || Scotland: Hebrides archipelago.
● HADES, UNDERWORLD. NW Hellas: Acheron river || Italy: lake Avernus (< Greek Aornos = with no birds), near Cumae, Campania, where Aeneas also found it || Peru: Amazon River.
● SIRENS. Italy: Cape Faro, by the Strait of Messina | Sirenuse archipelago, or a headland between the Gulfs of Naples and Salerno | Naples itself | Lucanian coast || Haiti or Cuba || Norway: Lofoten archipelago.
● SCYLLA & CHARYBDIS. Italy: Strait of Messina || Canada, Nova Scotia: Bay of Fundy || SW England: St. Michael’s Mount, Cornwall’s tip || Norway: Lofoten archipelago.
● THE SUN (HELIOS) ISLAND. Italy: Sicily || Canada: Nova Scotia or Newfoundland.
● CALYPSO’S OGYGIA. Maltese archipelago: Gaudos, modern Gozo || Morocco-Spain: Pillars of Heracles (Ceuta) || Portugal: Azores || Bermuda || Denmark: Faeroes.
● NAUSICAA & PHAEACIANS’ SCHERIA. NW Hellas: Corcyra (Corfu) || Cyprus || Carribean-Gulf of Mexico-Florida, USA || Portugal: Lisbon || Norway: Bergen || Germany: Heligoland || Italy: Calabria.
● ITHACA. W Hellas: Ithaca, or Cephallenia, or Leucas || Andalusia, Spain: Guadalete Delta or Cádiz || Denmark: S Funen.
Homer’s mystery: the epimyth of a myth
ANY HYPOTHESIS AT ALL, NO MATTER HOW OUTRAGEOUS, is more plausible than saying “I do not know”… After all, what do these stories show, even those that are crazy and nuts? What else but the greatness of Odysseus and Homer, the creator of the Iliad and the Odyssey; two wonderful epics that the classicists initially treated as written poetry and also the rhapsode as a writer. Until Milman Parry (1902–1935) appeared in the 1920s, and indicated it was oral musical-poetic tradition. His research on the process of oral poetry improvisation through “stock epithets” and “reiteration” (words, phrases, stanzas) established that these formulae were artifacts easily applied to the hexametric lines of oral tradition. A two-word stock epithet (e.g. “the resourceful Odysseus”) is reiterated, permitting the rhapsode to improvise and complete the verse. This research by Parry and his assistant, Albert Lord, was conducted in Yugoslavia.
Homer (a Hellenic name in Aeolis) was born in Smyrna (Ionia’s northern limit), or on the island of Chios, and died on the Cycladic island of Ios. His name means hostage, follower, or blind (ὁ μὴ ὁρῶν: “he who does not see”). Like Thamyris or Hesiod, Homer was a wandering minstrel, who hanged around with ordinary people – fishermen, sailors, potters, shoemakers, or elderly men – at harbours.(11) This image, of course, is far from that of a court musician-poet. Rapidity-ease of movement and plainness of expression-thought do not distinguish the great epic poets Virgil, Dante, or Milton. They rather distinguish the humbler epico-lyrical school. But Homer does not belong to that school, neither his poetry is in any sense ballad poetry. This is apparent through the higher artistic structure and value of his poems. It is his noble and powerful style that eventually separates Homer from all forms of ballad poetry and popular epic. His art is distinguished from the works of Virgil, Dante, and Milton, due to the comparative absence of underlying motives or sentiments. In Virgil’s poetry, a sense of the greatness of Rome is the leading motive of a passionate rhetoric, veiled by the considered delicacy of his language. Dante and Milton are still more faithful exponents of the religion and politics of their time. French epics display sentiments of fear or hatred of the Saracens. In Homer’s work, the interest is purely dramatic. There is no antipathy of race or religion. He is principally interested in human feeling or emotion, and also drama. Indeed, his poems are often referred to as dramas.
Above all, we need to remember that Homer recited his epics; Virgil, Dante, and all the rest wrote them down…
- (11) An elderly Homer, it is said, was going around Ios, the last stop of his life’s voyage, together with children, singing the carols of the day.
● Influences from the mythology and literature of Near East have been seen in the Odyssey. Martin West has noted some parallels between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Odyssey. Both Odysseus and Gilgamesh travel to the ends of the earth, and even to the underworld. Odysseus follows instructions given to him by Calypso, or Circe, a daughter of the sun-god Helios. Their islands are located at the edges of the world. Gilgamesh also gets directions from the goddess Siduri, who also dwells by the sea at the ends of the earth. Others correlate Homer with Hittite epics. It seems that the great epic poet was equally “resourceful” with his protagonist, Odysseus.
THE “CLASSICAL” MEDITERRANEAN ODYSSEY
●  TROY. Setting sail, Odysseus and his men were greeted by friendly and calm waters. He had not committed hubris yet…
●  ISMARUS, LAND OF THE CICONES. Odysseus and his men looted the city and robbed it of all its goods. The crew refused to leave quickly and fell asleep on the beach. The next morning the Cicones returned with their fierce kinsmen from the mountains. Odysseus escaped but lost many men. On leaving, his twelve ships were driven off course by fierce storms.
●  THE LOTUS EATERS’ ISLAND. Odysseus’ scouting party ate lotus fruit with the natives. This caused them to fall asleep and stop caring about ever going home.
●  THE CYCLOPES’ ISLAND. The giant one-eyed Cyclops Polyphemus devoured two of Odysseus’ men each day. Odysseus gave Polyphemus intoxicating wine and then blinded him with a wooden stake. As a result, Odysseus was haunted by the wrath of Poseidon, the Cyclops’ father, who cursed Odysseus to wander the sea for years.
●  AEOLIA, LAND OF AEOLUS, GOD OF THE WINDS. Aeolus gave Odysseus hospitality for a month and then a leather bag containing all the winds, except the west wind, so as to return safely home. However, the crew foolishly opened the bag while Odysseus slept, just as Ithaca came into sight, thinking that it contained gold. The resulting storm drove the ships back to Aeolia, but Aeolus refused to provide any further help.
●  TELEPYLOS, IN THE LAND OF THE LAESTRYGONIANS. These man-eating giants attacked the fleet with boulders, sinking all the ships but one and killing hundreds.
●  AEAEA, CIRCE’S ISLAND. Circe turned all of Odysseus’ men into pigs after feeding them cheese and wine. Hermes gave Odysseus a drug called moly in order to resist Circe’s magic. She agreed to change Odysseus’ men back to their human form in exchange for his love. They remained on the island for one year feasting and drinking.
●  HADES, THE UNDERWORLD. Guided by Circe’s instructions, Odysseus crossed the ocean and reached a harbour at the western edge of the world where he sacrificed to the dead and summoned the spirit of the prophet Tiresias to advise him.
●  SIRENS. Odysseus escaped by having all his men plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast. When he heard their beautiful song he begged the men to untie him but they ignored him.
●  SCYLLA & CHARYBDIS. Circe advised Odysseus to sail closer to the six-headed monster Scylla, for the whirlpool Charybdis could drown the ship. However, Scylla devoured six of his men.
●  THRINACIA, HELIOS’ SACRED ISLAND. Though Odysseus warned his men not to kill any of Helios’ sacred cattle, they disobeyed. Helios’ daughters told their father and he destroyed the ship and all men save Odysseus.
●  OGYGIA, CALYPSO’S ISLAND. The nymph made him her lover for seven years. On behalf of Athena, Zeus sent Hermes to tell Calypso to let Odysseus go.
●  SCHERIA, THE PHAEACIANS’ ISLAND. Washed up on the shore, Odysseus was found by Nausicaa, daughter of King Alcinous, who entertained him and escorted him to Ithaca.
●  ITHACA. On the twentieth day of sailing Odysseus finally arrived home.
Next Chronicle 16. MEDITERRANEAN PERIPLUS-PARAPLUS ● Periplus: Circumnavigation or Log ● Navigators and Intellectuals ● The Peloponnesian War and Euripides ● Nomos (Law Song)